Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: In Nairobi preparing to leave for Ethiopia and the final verdict on visas. (May 20-25)

Current Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Highlights: Eating the animals we have been seeing, working on the Landy, picking up visas or not as the case may be, and leaving for Lake Turkana and Ethiopia.
Upcoming: Flamingos on L. Bogoria, helping two Samburu warriors find their lost cows, north to Lake Turkana and visiting with nomadic Turkana and El Molo people, and then Ethiopia.

We arrived back into Nairobi form our Lamu experience Saturday morning and headed back to the Upper Hill Campsite where we left the Landy. I was quite worried about the Landy, not because of security as the campsite was very safe, but because the freezer inside the Landy had been running for about 10 ten days now and I was not sure if it had been sunny enough for the solar panel on the roof rack to keep the freezer and the battery happy. I use the freezer to store photographic film I am using (both exposed and unexposed) and it would be a disaster if it became damaged form the heat. Thankfully everything was fine. The solar panel did exactly what I had intended it to to: allow us to leave the Landy anywhere so when we came back all batteries and the freezer would be fine.

Before we left Nairobi, we wanted to have a last "slap-up" meal at a place called the Carnivore, a restaurant that served limitless amounts of different meats including meats like zebra, wildebeest etc. In fact, you could eat almost any of the animals you had seen at the game parks! So we asked a group of people who had just arrived in Nairobi for an overland trip if they wanted to go as a group and all trundled off in a taxi to eat the animals we had seen in the parks. That evening they had zebra, crocodile, ostrich, and eland (the largest antelope about the size of a very large bull) as well as all the normal meats such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and a few others. You have a flag on your table. As long as you keep the flag up, the waiters continue to bring you a huge hunk of meat of your choice on a massai sword from which they carve you a slice and you eat until you are full! This was great experience and my favorite meats were ostrich and eland.

The next day we had to work on the Landy. First on the list was to change a leaking wheel cylinder which had contaminated the front brake shoes with brake fluid making stopping a problem! This went very smoothly, but since we had no spare brake shoes we had to make do with re-dressing them by rubbing the face off the shoes using emery cloth. We also had to do an oil change. I was stupid enough again to accidentally leave the fuel pump running for a day when we first arrived which meant that petrol once again found its way into the sump. This was not a terribly big deal as Nairobi was the site of a scheduled oil change anyway. I only use synthetic oil, so this would be the last oil change before reaching England. To make sure I would never leave the fuel pump on again when leaving the vehicle, I fitted a relay which only gave power to the manual switch when the ignition was on. This is what I should have done in the first place, but we changed the pump in Namibia and bush repairs tend not to be the most complete repairs most of the time! I fiddled with a number of other things on the Landy that needed attention and before long the day was over and it was getting dark.

Monday morning was visa time. We headed back to the Sudanese embassy without any doubts that our visas had not been issued in the 3 weeks which they had our passports, and we were now resigned to the fast that we would not make it back to England via Sudan so just wanted our passports back so we could apply for our Ethiopian visas and get a visa to allow us extended stay in Kenya. When we arrived at the Sudanese Embassy, indeed we were told we had not been issued visas for Sudan. Because we would now be staying in Kenya beyond the 30 days given when we entered the country, we had to pay Kenyan immigration a visit and hand over US$50 for a Kenyan visa. Getting the visa was very painless, and as is the case with most African countries. Obtaining visa seems to have little to do with keeping out undesirables, but simply a way to generate revenue from tourists. With a Kenyan visa is our passports, we headed off to the Ethiopian Embassy. Upon arrival we filled out a very simple form, handed over a whapping US$63 together with passport size photo and were told to come back the next day to collect out passport with visa.

The next day we picked up our visas and got the crushing news that my visa was a single entry only so if I entered Djibouti (to ship the Landy) and then re-entered Ethiopia so we could fly to Cairo, I would have to obtain another visa and pay another US$63. Aaron's US passport entitled him to a multiple entry visa. At this point I reflected on my British passport. It seems that traveling on a British passport in the African countries we have visited is probably one of the most expensive passports to hold in terms of visa costs. To add to this, the British Embassies also charge about the most of any embassy for new passports and have the slowest service to issue one making the process even more expensive as you have to hang around while it is issued. When I asked at the British Embassy in Nairobi, a huge, very new, almost "art-deco" building, about getting a new passport as mine was almost full, the very nice lady behind the counter said that it would cost 50 British pounds and take 10 days. When I asked why it took so long we said it was because they were under-staffed! Just as an aside, the cheapest passport on which to travel Africa is an Irish passport where there are almost no countries for which you must purchase a visa!

Aaron went into Nairobi to send back about 8 video clips which should already be in the "Gallery" section of the site (or will appear shortly I hope) and I went to the Maasai market with Nate, a Canadian guy I met. The Maasai market is a craft market for tourists which are in short supply at this time of year in Kenya so as soon as you show up you are literally mobbed by touts and craft sellers. I don't mind this so much and am used to it, but some people get wigged out by being pulled about, tapped on the shoulder all the time, and with constant "come see my crafts" shouted at them. I bought some great things including a soapstone chess set, soapstone plate, candle holders, and coaster set. I just have to try and get them home without breaking anything!

Aaron and I met up at the campsite and went shopping to stock up on supplies which would get us through the rest of Kenya into Ethiopia. After talking with a Swiss couple who had entered Kenya from Ethiopia via the much less traveled Lake Turkana route, we decided we would also use this route. This part of Kenya really is a wild area and once you venture north past the southern part of lake Turkana, its barren and you are on your own except for very sparse nomadic Samburu and Turkana tribes people. In fact, even the so called dirt track which crosses the border has no border post. The Ethiopian police station close to the border collects brides to allow you to pass south into Kenya but apparently you can pass north into Ethiopia without paying a bride. However, you must report to Ethiopia immigration in Addis Ababa immediately to get an entry stamp. We will let you know how it goes!

On Thursday morning we set off with just one stop to make to fill up with petrol (50 KSH per liter = about 70 UScents a liter = US$2.80 per US gallon = about US$3.15 per Imperial gallon = 2 UK pounds per Uk gallon). Our first destination was Lake Bogoria which is home to thousands and thousands of flamingos. We also got totally and terribly stuck on the lake shore, so tune in next time and see how we got out!

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